We always get a bit of a chuckle when a Hammer film introduces its hero: he is usually a wiry British fellow, not too bright but always courteous, even if it means masking the distaste he feels at suffering the latest indignity required by the screenplay. We laugh because this is exactly the same kind of person that an American adventure film would include as the comic foil to the hero. That our two societies can find such different meanings to the same character can be a source of great amusement.
In Prehistoric Women, our hero is David Marchand (Michael Latimer), who leads a tourist safari into the jungles of Africa, convincingly portrayed by some stock footage of African animals in their native habitats under the opening credits. Don't get used to it though, because the rest of the movie was shot on a soundstage, and the pedigrees of the animals on display are a little dodgy.
"Rhino? What rhino?"
We meet David as he accompanies his client, Colonel Hammond, on a hunt for a big "cat." The animal we actually see is a South American jaguar, and cheetahs probably aren't as comfortable in the jungle as this animal. Hammond just wings the ahem leopard, and David follows it into the jungle to finish it off. David is then captured by a tribe of natives, who want to kill him in the name of their god, the white rhino. They haul him in to their temple, which houses a statue of the white rhino, since all of the actual white rhinos in the area went extinct a long time ago.
Just when things look their worst, David grabs the white rhino's horn, lighting flashes and the natives all freeze, apparently stuck in time as if Jack Deth were using one of his gadgets nearby. A wall of the temple parts, revealing a lush jungle populated by exotic birds. Especially exotic to Africa, because these birds include scarlet macaws, which are also native to South America.
Whatever you do, don't stroke the rhino.
The point of this, however, is that David has been transported back in time, a past populated almost exclusively by beautiful women sporting the same look Raquel Welch made popular a year earlier in One Million Years B.C. This leather-and-fur bikini concurrence is no fluke -- Michael Carerras, our director, had his hand in both movies.
The pecking order in this Amazonian society quickly becomes clear: the blondes are slaves, and the brunette women their masters. David, repelled by the cruelty he sees in the actions of the dark-haired women and especially their queen Kari (Martine Beswick), sides with the blondes. Kari tells David that the blondes are treated as they are for a reason: their crimes extend well past the blatant misuse of peroxide. In the past the blondes and their men ruled the land, and kept the brunettes as their servants. Kari escaped servitude and allied with the local tribe of "devils." Now the aging blonde men are imprisoned in a cave. This is pretty funny, because this group of Oxford-accented gents would be playing the history professors in any other Hammer film.
"And after the spanking, the oral sex!"
David is eventually consigned to this cave, basically because he repeatedly turns down the advances of Kari in favor of getting it on with the blonde Saria (Edina Ronay). Maybe dark-haired women have cooties or something. More brunette evil comes in the form of the marriage ceremonies Kari negotiates between troublesome blonde slaves and the nearby devil tribe. These ceremonies, too strange even for Unitarians, involve the bride riding a statue of a white rhino until the honeymoon, when the bride is taken away by the groom, a masked savage.
Back in his cave, David leads a mini-revolution among the old geezers. The main obstacle to the revolution is the fact that David is chained to one of said geezers. Luckily, theres a handy forge nearby that they use to heat the manacles to the point where they open. This kills the old codger to whom Dave is chained, and after all that trouble we wonder if anybody ever thought that it might just be easier to chop the old guy's hand off. Once the men are free all heck breaks loose, and the situation is ended by a the arrival of an "actual" white rhino in the jungle (please ignore that rhinos actually live on the savanna, and the fact that the rhino is rather obviously rolling around on wheels). In a fit of poetic justice, the rhino impales Queen Kari on its horn.
Why does every film with cavegirls
also have old guys? Can't we just
have the girls?
Because fate has a keen sense of story closure, David is transported back in time to the moment where he was about to be run through by the modern day tribesmen. The tribesmen reconsider because at just that moment the white rhino statue they worship crumbles to dust, an event they've been waiting for generations to happen. No really, they have a celebratory dance ready and everything. If this was such a big deal you'd think somebody would have just taken a sledgehammer to the damn thing, but nobody in these movies does anything the easy way.
Prehistoric Women is the cinematic poster child for truth in advertising. If anything, we see a few too many prehistoric chicks in the flick. It's difficult to sort out which one is which, and why we should care. Allow your attention to drift for a few minutes and you'll be lost, drifting from pretty face to pretty face in a sea of scantily clad British actresses. Not that this is unpleasant, necessarily, but the inability to tell one cavegirl from another does rather detract from the plot, if you care about such things.
Those who dig Hammer Studios' other torpid adventure film romps will find lots to like about Prehistoric Women, but we don't recommend it as a date film. And though the story isn't terribly complex or suprising, it does leave behind a rather puzzling question: What the heck happened to all the redheads? We like to think they all followed Raquel Welch out of prehistoric exploitation films, but if so they got lost along the way. (We didn't see them in Myra Breckenridge, that's for sure.) Hmmm... if you spot a puzzled-looking group of beautiful women with red hair in fur bikinis, point them our way, won't you?